Sending messages wrong can dilute your credibility

Show of hands: who’s received an email, tweet, article, or link declaring that you’re doing SEO wrong? Or Twitter? Or job searches, push-ups, double spaces, Agile, coffee orders, skin care …? Because, to borrow from the Huffington Post, “You’re doing everything wrong, according to the Internet.” Chances are, you’ve had that smug little subject line play out in your timeline or inbox and formed a reflexive response before you even finished reading the title. How receptive were you when it arrived?
  • Unleash the hounds: “Mascara removal? This is an IT business!
  • Slammed door: “I don’t even drink coffee. Shows how much you know about me.
  • Voice crackling through the buzzer: “Yeah, whatever. I’m Biz Stone.
  • Don’t let the door hit you: “Pfft. I’m ScrumMaster certified. What’re you, chicken?
  • Peep hole: “Hm, maybe I’ll look into it, but I’m pretty sure I use spaces correctly.
  • Peering through latched chain: “Why? Is there a better way to get SEO results?
  • Door wide open: “Hey, you know, my shoulders have been kind of sore, I wonder if I’m doing push-ups wrong.”
  • Warm Embrace: “Oh, this is perfect. Maybe I can finally get off unemployment.”
WarmEmbrace “You’re Doing it Wrong” has its place in expert content – as long as you’re doing it right I’ve had more or less that entire range of instincts, except the Biz Stone one. To be honest, I’ve primarily dwelt at the bottom half of the reception spectrum, with mouse hovering over “unsubscribe.” And I know I’m not alone. Why? Because, let’s face it, people find criticism hard enough to take, never mind unsolicited criticism that comes seemingly from out of nowhere, and doesn’t apply to me anyway. And that’s the key.
If it comes from nowhere, and it’s unsolicited, and it’s unwarranted, then you’re doing “you’re doing it wrong” wrong.
Even if your advice and solutions are superior, your tactic may be alienating instead of helpful. That’s because expert content, in whatever form it takes, always needs to have these three characteristics:
  • relevance – targeted to specific interests, making the audience aware this information is just for people like them
  • usefulness – providing information that the reader can learn from, act on, and take steps toward, not just take up space
  • timeliness – appearing when it’s most appropriate to recipients, so they feel they need to act on it now
Here’s the thing: while the provocatively worded criticism could backfire in the wrong scenario, it does have a rightful place in the content marketing world, if your intent is to jar people into action—and if you have the expertise and credibility to help them do it. If it is, and if you do, some of the responses your tone solicits would get you exactly the results you’re looking for, because the people you targeted were the ones who needed that advice—and what’s more, those people needed it right then. So how do you know who the right people are (relevance), whether they need that information (usefulness), and when they need it most (timeliness)? You know it by having done your homework about your audience. Your audience is the starting point for every word of expert content you deliver. Maybe they’ve clicked on your retargeted coffee bar ads recently. Or they went to a job search seminar your organization sponsored a few weeks ago. Perhaps this group of people opted in to your newsletter to tell them all the things they do wrong every month. (OK, they probably didn’t; but if you have an ironic campaign running and people want to have some fun with it, then that’s fair game.) The point is, the people you’re sending it to are not random, leaflet-drop, known-universe contacts dug up from past purchases: they’re people you are starting a relationship with because they want to hear what you have to say about a topic they’re interested in. Now the hard part. You’ve already established that the topic itself is relevant, useful and timely. With a provocative subject like “you’re doing it wrong,” if you make it past the unsubscribe button, the content inside the wrapper had better pay it off with a superior way to do it right.

Insight-driven content

That means an illuminating, fresh approach that you’re pretty sure the readers don’t know about yet. Where you truly can’t go wrong—and the way you make your organization appear as a trusted authority on the topic—is if your content is based on bona-fide, eye-opening, behavior-changing, research-backed optimization of a process that your data verifies most people have been overlooking. That is what’s known as an insight. Finding out that more than 80% of marketers don’t tweet on weekends, and revealing that people on Twitter engage more with brands on weekends, made Mashable’s “Sorry, Marketers, You’re Doing Twitter Wrong” report a double-edged win in the content game. That’s because the study showed evidence that indeed, audiences were doing Twitter wrong. That’s something people didn’t know. And the content itself provided usable, relevant, and timely advice about how to do Twitter right. Payoff. What prospects don’t want to hear is just a finger-pointing, “us vs them” jab at the competition. That just seems cheap, and certainly doesn’t demonstrate expertise. Other ways the content fails to pay off for audiences:
  • Your solution ignores or misses their goal. They were eager to hear your expertise about building up strength with push-ups—but your article was about technique mistakes they weren’t making.
  • Your solution doesn’t account for their unique situation or preference. The topic seemed to be relevant because they’re coffee fanatics, but you failed to mention your coffee-brewing techniques are only applicable for French press coffee.
  • You made a wrong assumption. Your article theorizes they’re failing because management is undermining Agile concepts, but the company already strives to follow all the rules of Agile development and wanted to make sure it’s on track.
  • Yours is a blatant commercial pitch. They wanted advice about improving their networking skills for job-hunting; you signed them up for your resume-writing service.
In each case, you can easily compensate by inserting the goal or preference directly into the subject line: “If you’re not getting stronger, you’re doing push-ups wrong” vs “You’re doing push-ups wrong, and that’s why it’s painful.” Or “If you’re looking for a stronger brew, you’re doing French press wrong.” Now in the grand scheme, does it really matter? So a recipient ignores it, deletes it, or at worst, reads it and opts out. Hey, you’ve learned who’s interested and who’s not — and there are always other contacts, right? Well, sort of. Segmenting your list is incredibly valuable, but alienating potential buyers because of a misfire is painful. But if you truly want to expand your influence and be perceived as an expert by others who aren’t on your list–people who find you by searching on a problem, or journalists who need a credible viewpoint for a topic you’ve mastered, for instance–you’ll take the steps to make sure it’s content that’s relevant, useful, and timely, and that solves a problem they need help with. The “You’re Doing It Wrong” genre of expert content has its place right in the tactics bag of tricks along with PR, blogs, articles, and how-to videos. As long as your target audience is looking for it — and you hit them with it at the right time — then you will find you’re one of the few who are doing it right. That Twitter insight was the perfect payoff to an appropriate, provocative subject line. I’d open my door to hear more about that. At least to security-chain length.